Sunday night I dropped off my wife at a hotel that OSHU uses for sleep testing. As I was driving back I spotted a biker gang member riding his Hog of shimmering Black Silver Chrome. His lady perched upon her seat behind him, they were stopped at a traffic light. I was able to get within a half a car length from them and when the young lady leaned back I could see his colors. He was a Gypsy Joker.
About 35 years ago Yvan and I were buying a house on North Webster about a 1/2 block from Interstate Ave a block north of Alberta. Back then, Interstate was four lanes and was a fairly tough neighborhood. And just south of Alberta there was this old beat up house whose front yard were filled with stunted weeds and a beer can or two and broken glass from a thrown bottle of cheap whiskey. But come late Friday night one would hear the roar of Hogs stretched out westward as they came off I-5 and headed west down Alberta, and that house would be filled with Gypsy Jokers some 30 to 50 strong.
Now Portland’s police had no love for the Jokers and when they went to rattle their cage the Jokers showed up in force. On one of those occasions I happen to have been walking home and there were these two Jokers trying to load a Hog into a pick up and did not quite have enough strength between the two so I stopped and gave them a hand and we became friends. All of a sudden there were 20 police and the leader swaggers up to one of the Jokers and ask who the leader was. This guy comes out, about 6’6 muscular but skinny and the lead cop says that they can’t park their bikes in the street or on the parking strip. The ones on the lawn couldn’t hang over onto the sidewalk.
The leader of the Gypsies was just about to respond when I found myself speaking and saying to the leader of the Jokers, “Just over on Webster is my house and the driveway is pretty deep, about 50 feet and about 20 feet wide and if your guys wanted to you could park them there.”
So that day about 25 Hogs showed up on my drive way and when they left each had a track tucked neatly into the frame of their gauges. After that they called me Preacher.
Now fast forwarding to 2015. At the next light the Joker looked over to me and I gave him a nod.
“Do I know you?” he asked.
Then he changed lanes and we both went into a parking lot. I got out of my truck and took off my sun glasses and he took off his.He stared hard and circled me twice and then closed his eyes and jabbing his finger into the air looks up suddenly and says, in a low whisper, “Your The Preacher.” Then, in a shout at the girl, “This is the Preacher!”
Then he recounts the story to his girl who turns out is his oldest daughter and he was taking her to work. “Wow the guys are gonna bust a gut when they hear this.” Then he gets all serious and says, You still a preacher?”
“Worse,” I said, “I’m a Pastor.”
Shaking his head, he places a hand on my shoulder and says, “Well a bunch of us became Christians. We meet in a house church and study the word and try to reach out to other Jokers.”
Then the daughter reminds him that she is gonna be late for work. So after a short time of prayer and the gift of my phone number we part company.
Just goes to show that the seeds of the kingdom can germinate anywhere and anytime and that all things are possible with the Holy Spirit.
Okay, I keep a lot more than three items there. Frankly, most of the time, my desk is really cluttered. I just cleared it away to take the picture above, so you might THINK that I keep a clean desk. Total exposure, here.
But these three items keep a deeper meaning than the pile of paperwork, visionary notes from Jeff and piles of Scripture readings for the next worship service. They remind me of real people, real lives. Reminding me that I am not just working with statistics or faceless nobodies. That the real person is more complex, and often hidden.
The first item is a rail spike with the name, “Mick Wilson” on it. Mick was a quiet man who often came to the Red Barn to be with his friends, and to obtain a few items he needed for the week. One day, he was walking along the railroad track with a couple friends and they heard a train coming from a distance and moved a good distance away from the track. Then his dog, Yoda, ran away from him, breaking his hold on the leash, rushing toward the oncoming train. Mick ran after him, just catching up with Yoda in front of the train. They were both hit and died.
This spike reminds me that, even if they don’t look like it, many of the homeless are heroes, ready to sacrifice themselves for those they love.
The second item is a knife, which was taken from a boy who was threatening another with it on the church property. We’ve only had a few knife fights in the twenty years that I have been working with the homeless. But in this case, one of the folks who often comes to the Red Barn tackled the kid with the knife, took it out of his hand and held him down until he calmed down. In the past I had trouble with this same person who offered security.
This knife reminds me that the very people I have problems with will later save someone’s life, if I would give them a chance.
Finally, there is a prayer book. This book belonged to a man came almost daily to the Red Barn. Although he was homeless, he helped so many people and tried to give people a place to rest and meet their needs. He didn’t like to talk about religion or the Lord, and I guess I assumed he was agnostic. He had a series of strokes and died. After he passed away, one of his close friends gave me this prayer book and said that he would pray out of this book on a regular basis.
This prayer book reminds me that we never know who has deep waters of connections to Jesus. We must never assume.
No one is what they seem. No one is what they will be. No one is completely alone.
So after the check up, I decided to treat myself to a donut and coffee. Did you know that they have TEXAS donuts. This one was a full 10 inches across and 2 inches thick and glazed. O’ the bliss…….and so instead of coffee I went for a Mocha.
Hey if you’re gonna be decedent, BE DECEDENT!!! So there I was stuffing my face and enjoying every blissful mouthful.
Now in the VA’s cafeteria there is this giant window looking out on to the main floors parking and drop off point. Outside was a guy in a wheel chair missing a leg up to the hip and his left hand was partially gone as well. He bummed a cigarette and a light.
He was heading for the smoking area when two police officers stop him and begin to hassle him about not being in the smoking area, then they ask for Identification.
He tries to explain that he was rolled the other night and he has been here trying to get some help.
Then this cop chose the wrong path and says “You’re no vet. You’re a bum.”
Now I was prevented from entering into this fray because of the wall of glass even though I could clearly hear all that is being said. But I did let out a gritted teeth prayer for intervention.
Apparently God heard, for a retired First Sergeant, who was a Marine, comes up and asks, “What’s the problem?”
The guy in the chair said “I am a Marine but I was robbed the other night and I don’t have ID so they think I am a bum.”
The First Sergeant whips out his iPad and says, “Name!”
“Hansen, John L.”
“SSN?” and he gives it.
“Sergeant.” and with a few swipes and pokes and jabs he proclaims, “WA LA Hansen John L Sargent, 3 purple hearts, a bronze star, bronze star cluster, and a silver star, wounded while rescuing two fallen comrades.”
John says,”They shot our truck with a RPG.” (rocket propelled grenade)
The First Sergeant turns to the cop and ask for his card. “This is no Bum. This is a Marine, who gave his all and this nation owes him big time……..and you sir are a coward.”
Then he stepped behind John’s wheelchair and began pushing, heading for the front door. I met them and explained I had witnessed the whole affair. I joined the company and we went to the Inspector Generals’ office where what normally takes weeks was reduced to about an hour and John had his ID back and all the paper work for his disability and orders for a flight back home to Atlanta Georgia courtesy of the Armed forces of the United States.
When Last I saw John he was heading to the hospital wing for a hot shower and clean clothes and a hot meal. Kinda reminded me of Anawim, they come in wounded for a hot shower clean clothes and some hot food.
Anawim believes that all vets should be treated with dignity and assistance from the nation who called them to sacrifice their all. -SK
God the Father looked down on earth and did not see a world full of sinners ready to judge. Rather, He saw a world full of potential lovers. So He gave his Son to die for us all, even when we were in open hatred against God’s love, in order to give us a chance. God, to this day, does not give up on us, but gives us the Holy Spirit to prompt us to follow Jesus’ path of love.
God’s grace really is amazing.
He forgives us when we least deserve it.
He gives rain and food to all creatures, even the ungrateful and downright evil.
He gives us air to breathe, and berries to eat, and sun for growth and clouds for shade. All without cost.
He gives us strength to live, and struggle for justice and compassion so we can help those in need.
God gives us loving family and friends, so we can be supported.
And when we have nothing else, God gives us strangers to help us when we are at our lowest.
God is great and His grace knows no end.
How I wish we could say the same about those who call themselves by God’s name. Instead of being a people of grace, we work to create a society of hatred, assumptions, cynicism and anger. Grace leads to a society of love, distrust leads to a society of fear and poverty and violence.
I have seen pastors call the police to have the homeless arrested when they are simply seeking a helping hand.
I have seen Christians verbally abuse a mentally ill person, instead of trying to help him.
I have seen preachers express their anger at homosexuals and Muslims, stirring their congregation to hatred and words of violence.
I have heard born again middle class people consider the poor in need of salvation, simply because they were poor.
Instead of telling each other stories of grace and hope for redemption, we all too often speak negatively of those in need of help.
We will judge those whose only crime is being generous, because they make us uncomfortable.
We will separate instead of love.
We will condemn instead of forgive.
We will coldly regard those who disagree with us instead of oozing with mercy and grace, as Jesus did.
God, may we not be the dam of your grace, but channels of forgiveness and compassion and love.
Jesus was a man of peace. He did not come to a world absent of war. Rather, he came to create a community that slowly created a world where war is unnecessary, where everyone’s needs are met and the greedy are punished.
Jesus offered his true followers– those obedient to his love and mercy– peace (John 14:27). He commanded his people to always seek peace (Mark 9:50; Romans 12:18). He said his true followers would step into the world and make peace out of conflict (Matthew 5:9). He said that not a single human being should be excluded from the love and gentleness of his people (Luke 6:27-36)
So why did Jesus say, “I did not come to give peace but a sword.” (Matthew 10:34)? Because he knew the established order is opposed to peace. The established order must always have people they exclude, must always have fear, must always have conflict or else their whole system will collapse. (Matthew 23:23-27) Jesus’ way of peace is in a spiritual war against this philosophy. And Jesus will not cringe from battling in that war.
But Jesus has transferred the battlefield to the spirit realm (Mark 3:22-27). So Jesus will never attack human beings, but the ideas and spirits that cause human beings to do evil. Jesus and his community stands in the way of violence, especially against the oppressed and outcast, allowing themselves to take the sword that was meant for the rejected ones.